by Jonathan Vold

Thursday, March 31

Moleskin 2.5: Botherhood

Four years is as good as a generation apart when you’re five and one. I don’t think we played together much in those first years, in North Dakota and then in New Hope, Minnesota, as Dad finished up his seminary studies. We were on two different tracks: I was learning to read as Dan was learning to walk; I was off on errands with Dad while my brother, with our mother resuming work as an English teacher, was left with the babysitter. I’m not sure how early it was that I began to look back at my brother as an annoying tag-along, but it was a perception that stuck well into our teenage years. And yet in our next station in life, when I was six and Dan was two, we did start to play together more, just as we approached the time Dan could no longer be considered, by me or by anyone, the baby of the family.

Wednesday, March 30

In Memory Of Grandma Berenice

She lives in your warm smile
     and your easy laugh,
     your purposeful hugs;

She lives in the way you keep house
     and home and family together,
     in the part of you too that would see the world;

She is in your eyes and all they have seen,
     in your hands resting gently on tired shoulders,
     in your heart of tender steel;

She drives with you through Minnesota,
     away from the cities and farms
     to where the trees turn birch
     and the lakes become personal;

She stands with you at the front door,
     welcoming, and again
     with your smile your laugh your hugs;

She will be forever the reason
     you are cousin, sister, brother,
     the ones to call her grandma,
     the man who named her Bunny;

She will linger
     in your lefse heritage, your Norwegian souls,
     in the percolating aromas of morning coffee
     in the happy of happy hour;

She will resonate
     in your day to day testimony,
     your quiet evening prayer,
     the hymn you hum.

Once she was the one
     who worked the lathe
     and weaved rugs
     and moved heavy stones to a beachfront dock;

It was not long ago
     she paddled a canoe
     and cleaned the fish we caught;
     not so long ago we drove to Idaho
And she worked crossword puzzles
     and knitted sweaters
     and baked pies and cookies

She would gently massage the knots out of your neck
     without you ever asking
     and one day she hugged you
 from the back of your chair
     and said I am so happy you are here.

Now you hike through the woods
     and walk a beast of a dog;
     you find your lifelong companion
     and you keep planting trees
     and watching them grow;

And you travel the world
     and you never run out of places to go
     but you keep coming home

To sit on the deck, to watch
     the rising sun, the setting sun
     or in the house by the hearth
     you watch the fire

And you will hold this as long as you can,
     maybe you will glimpse heaven,
     or simply appreciate the moment

But you will smile
     and she will live on in your smile.

Tuesday, March 29

To The Eulogist

Your words to my lips to their hearts:
What you speak from your soul
I would seek to, strive to understand
That they, your audience, would feel
More than hear what I say,
That I, your agent, would sing
More than simply recite,
That you, my brother, would be in spirit here
To touch their hearts directly
And make some subtle difference
To the beat of their lives
In the slow, sometimes painful dance of time,
That we could render this poem complete:
Your soul to my song to their beat.

Monday, March 28


Everything is a gift, from rising sun
to evening tide: we are given heaven’s light
even as we journey into night
and come to find another day is done;

the fires in the sky keep burning on
like memories, not letting us forget
how much we’re given, even at the set
before the dawn, how much we carry on.

Some gifts will not be what we might expect
and I don’t know yet what tomorrow brings,
but every nightfall is a gift: believe
that heaven’s grace endures most in the things
we strain to see and struggle to accept
but slowly find the presence to receive.

Sunday, March 27

The Point Of Life

1 looks to the stars
  turns to the east
  leans on the powers
    of reason & truth.

1 pays for the view
  waits for the feast
  contemplates beauty
    & holds on to youth.

1 bows to the throne
  flees from the beast
  stands off alone
    while one sets up
    a booth.

1 searches within
  struggles for peace
  sees time begin
    to grow long
    in the tooth.

1 takes up the cross
  suffers the sentence
  ‘s less where he is now
    than where he
    is going.

1‘s done what he’s done
  comes to his senses
  turns to the one
    hanging next to him,

1 speaks of a presence
  lives for today
  lifts up the other
    and shows him
    the way.

Saturday, March 26


It was Monday morning, two hours after midnight. Two brothers lay motionless in a ditch on the side of a country road. Beer cans had scattered on either side of them and behind them towered a fat oak tree. Nineteen and eighteen years old, they were in the early morning stage of drunkenness, full of philosophical questions and profound shrugs.

“Could you picture us being old farts?” the younger one asked.


“Sitting around all day, lying under the trees, farting...”

“And drinking beer.”

“Sure. Where do you think the farts would come from?” He giggled.

They finished their beers together and started in on two more.

“What do you want to be remembered for?” asked the older one.

“I don’t know, the other answered. He paused, considered. Finally he said, “I just want to live.”

“Yeah. Me too.”

They breathed together for a while, looking up at black sky through the tree branches, then the older one sat up and leaned against the tree. The younger brother sat up with him.

“I mean it, Sal,” he said. “I just want to live, that’s all. That’s the whole answer.”

“Hey, it’s a good answer,” Sal replied. “And it’s what I’m going to remember you for now. I’ll even put it on your tombstone: ‘Dave Nekro. He wanted to live.’”

His hands framed the epitaph in the air and he pronounced the words with exaggerated drama. They laughed together. It was funny to be irreverent, to pretend that they would die, one before the other. But then they fell quiet and lied down again, because it was serious to be thinking of death at all, and strange to be laughing at it. A third brother, older than both of them, had died not so long before, and suddenly they were sober again.

He had crashed his car into the same fat oak tree —it would come to be known as “the family tree” —that loomed behind them. He had got drunk, passed out while driving and veered off the road. Now Dave and Sal were sprawled next to the same tree, lying flat against the same ground. And one was talking about writing the other’s epitaph.

“So you plan on outliving me.”

“Yes,” Sal answered. “Maybe six, seven years. I guess I just want to live a little bit more than you, that’s all.”

Dave tried to match his brother’s wit. “Then we’ll have to put it on your tombstone: ‘Sal Nekro. He wanted to live longer.’” He swept his hands in the air, just like his brother had done, and they laughed again. “That’s how you want it, right?”

“Yep, just like that, remember me that way,” Sal said. The beer was making him speak more slowly. “If I’m the first one to go, I mean, which like I said, I won’t be. But put it in stone. I’ll do the same for you.”

They shook hands and called it an old wine pact. “That’s what the old farts would call it,” Sal explained, and they sealed it, in lieu of wine, with their last two beers. Dave suggested that the pact be written down, but Sal reminded him that the key word was ‘remember,’ and ink would be a hypocrisy. They didn’t have a pen with them anyway, Dave pointed out.

Then they began to meditate on this pact, and each separately thought how they could not be hypocrites now, how they would have to remember each other in a special way. And each was reminded again of where they were, at the sight of their brother’s death, under the family tree.

“What’s on Jim’s stone?” asked Dave, after they had been quiet long enough. They were getting sleepy, but had not fallen off yet.

“I don’t know. I can’t remember.”

“Me neither. I think it’s a bible verse.”

“Try to remember.”

“I am...”

They lay next to the oak tree quietly. Sal picked bark off the tree, reaching mindlessly behind his head, and Dave returned to staring at the pre-dawn sky. Eventually Sal stopped picking bark, and Dave closed his eyes, and they both slipped away into the darkness of sleep.

It was the same night, exactly one year before them, that Jim had rested against the tree. Metal caged him in and separated him from the bark and the stars and the ground, and when it was light —Sunday morning light then —he did not wake up. There was no one there to shake him at the sunrise, and he would not have responded anyway. When he was finally discovered several hours later, it took blow torches and power saws to get to him. Even then, with all of the racket and commotion he did not rouse. He just lay there, with his head covered with drying blood, in the middle of metal and beer cans and broken glass, next to the big old oak.

Dave had dreamt the scene many times in the last year. They were bad nightmares at first —Jim would not move! —but they evolved slowly to a kind of afterward serenity. In the early dreams he had tried to shake Jim awake, but eventually he would come to just sit with him. Sal would always be there, too, and after a while they began to take on a sleepy sameness, Jim lying there, Dave and Sal next to him, and the fat oak standing like a monument.

But on this commemorative night something different appeared in the dream. Above the wreckage Dave noticed —and they must have been there all along —three tombstones that read like a roll call: “Jim Nekro: He wanted to live ...Sal Nekro: He wanted to live... Dave Nekro: he wanted to live.” Dave thought, in his dream, that he ought to start screaming, but he found he had neither energy nor will.

When it was daylight, both Dave and Sal continued to sleep. Finally, several hours after dawn, Dave was the first to stir. His eyes opened, fluttered, closed. He raised an arm up to his forehead, brushing against empty beer cans beside him, and he groaned. His eyes opened again and he saw oak leaves and blue sky. As if these conscious senses had rung an effective alarm he sat up and reached over to shake his brother.

“Sal. Hey, wake up, we’re in deep shit.”

Sal grunted, rolled over with his face to the ground, and covered his ears and head with both arms. Dave shook him harder.

“Come on. We were supposed to go see Jim this morning.”


“Sal, we never made it home. Mom’s probably just now telling Dad how our beds haven’t been slept in. We’re going to get it big this time.”

Sal rolled over again, uncovered his head and opened his eyes halfway. “Dave, will you please cool it?” he said. “My head hurts and yours ought to, too.”

“But Sal...”

“Yeah, okay.” He started to pick himself up slowly; it was clear that he was in no hurry. Dave tried another tactic.

“Sal, Mom wanted us all dressed up and at the graveyard this morning. She’d probably be crying as it is, and here we are making it worse.”

“All right, all right. Let’s go.”

They stumbled over to their car and got in. Sal started the engine up and began driving straight to the graveyard. They would not have time to go home, he said. Dave agreed, but he was convinced that one place or another their father was going to kill them and their mother was going to cry.

For the better part of the drive they were silent. Dave finally spoke.

“Hey Sal, do you remember?”

“Remember what?”

“Last night. Our pact.”

Sal paused, thought, and said, “Yeah. We were going to live forever, right?”

Dave looked at him, didn’t answer. Sal thought, remembered more clearly. “We were talking about our epitaphs.” Dave nodded, and they continued the trip quietly.

The graveyard was a large estate on the edge of town. It smelled of drying lawn and withered flowers. A scattering of trees gave character to the rows of marble and granite, and the green leaves balanced the yellowing of the late August grass.

The family was already at the graveyard, standing in front of the family plot. Their mother wore a summer dress with a big floppy hat. Their father had on one of the same sport jackets he wore every Sunday. Their little sister Susan was dressed up like her mother but without the hat. She stood between mother and father, who each had an arm around her. She looked like an only child, sure to be held tightly in the years to come.

The three were looking down at Jim’s grave marker now. “James Allen Nekro,” it said, giving his life span of twenty one years. “Rest in peace” was inscribed below it. “I am the resurrection. Even though a man dies, yet shall he live.”

Sal and Dave had stopped their car a hundred yards away and were standing beside it, inconspicuously watching the family’s frozen pose. For several minutes the brothers stood frozen themselves, not daring to approach. They smelled of beer and their clothes were dirty and ruffled, and their stance, up to that point, had a sway from the night before. But now they did not move.

Sal finally said, “Dave, let’s not go.” Dave nodded, and they quietly got back into their car, opening and closing the doors without giving themselves away.

“Are we going home then?”

“No. We’ll go back later, when they’re asleep.”

“What about Jim? His gravestone, we were going to see what it said,”

“We’ll have to come back after they’re gone.”

And they left the graveyard and drove off as quietly as ghosts, back to the family tree where they decided to kill some time.

Friday, March 25

TWL, Part I: Characters

0.5     I.  The Burial Of The Dead

0.5 I.  The Burial Of The Dead

0.5. ACT ONE:  Eliot’s poem follows the structure of a five-act Shakespearean play.  Act One opens with a series of character introductions, beginning with the Austrian Countess Marie and followed by an Old Testament Son of Man, the mythological Hyacinth Prince, a modern day Clairvoyante and, obtusely, the Reader’s Brother. The characters generally seem eager to live, to speak and be heard, but death, or a tiredness of life, lingers around them.

The title to this first part alludes to The Order for the Burial of the Dead, from The Church of England, The Book of Common Prayer (1662). The order of service begins with a passage from John 11:26, and specifically from the story of Lazarus being raised from the dead:

“...whosoever liveth and believeth in me, shall never die.”

Lazarus is revived and promised eternal life, ostensibly something to celebrate, but this allusion also follows the Sybil’s lament over her state of never dying (see note 0.3).

THE CLASSICAL ELEMENTS of earth, air, fire, water and wind form another structural premise for this poem, as the elements, almost characters in their own right, make successive appearances in each of the poem’s five sections.  This, the first section, issometimes called the “earth” section.

Eliot would later repeat this structure with the first four elements and the quintessential wind in Four Quartets (1943), a collection of poems he wrote over the course of six years (1936-1942), reflecting air in Burnt Norton (1936), earth in East Coker (1940), water in The Dry Salvages (1941) and fire in Little Gidding (1942).  See notes 64, 306 and 434 for other references to Four Quartets.

Designation of the classical elements can be found in early Babylonian, Indian, Greek and Chinese philosophies. See Anon., Enuma Elis (ca. 1800 BCE, tr. as The Seven Tablets of Creation by E. A. Wallis Budge, 1921), a Babylonian cuneiform text which describes creation through personifications of water, earth, sky and fire.

See also Upanishads, Shvetashvatara Upanishad 2:12 (ca 400-200 BCE, tr. Robert Ernest Hume, 1921):

“When the fivefold quality of Yoga has been produced,
Arising from earth, water, fire, air and space,
No sickness, no old age, no death has he
Who has obtained a body made out of the fire of Yoga.”

For more on the Upanishads, see note 400.

See also Plato, Timaeus 48b, (ca. 360 BCE, tr. W.R.M. Lamb, 1925):

“We must gain a view of the real nature of fire and water, air and earth,
as it was before the birth of Heaven.”

Finally, see Anon., Mawangdui Silk Texts (ca. 168 BCE), presenting the Chinese philosophy of Wu Xing and the five phases of wood, fire, earth, metal and water.

For more on the classical elements, see notes 7, 26, 76.5, 172, 307, 311.5 and 321.5.

EARTH is the prevailing element of Part I, marked by three separate gardens (lines 10, 37 and 71) but also roots (see note 4) and the dust of graves (see note 30).  Mountains (line 17) and rocks (lines 24-26) are introduced and a brown fog pervades (line 61).  Attention is given to planting (line 71) and digging up (line 75), and there is a retreat from fire (lines 22-23), a fear of water (line 55) and, in short-breathed sighs, the death of air (line 64).

Thursday, March 24

Moleskin 2.4: Preacher’s Kids

My first memories, beyond the haze of my first-born years, seem to immediately include my brother Daniel Martin. He was born where my sentience began: in central North Dakota during the war protest years, son of a homemaker and a seminarian, the second child as long as I’m here to remind him. Neither of us has any awareness of our family’s move to North Dakota, where our dad was assigned an internship in his last year of seminary, nor have we ever paused to consider what was surely, leading up to this, a momentous career change for our father. In our eyes he had always been a preacher, and we were the preacher’s kids. There is a lasting camaraderie in that distinction. There was also a level of community attention, and stigma, from this, which brotherhood would help us endure and appreciate.

Wednesday, March 23

Our (collective) Father (familiar)

Our (collective) Father (familiar)
who art in heaven, hallowed (praise)
be thy name (Yahweh hear us calling).
Thy kingdom come (show us your place),

Thy will be done (the peace that passes)
on earth (to mortals: Jesus born)
as it is in heaven (Jesus risen
everlasting, every morning).

Give us this day our daily bread
(the daily gift of life revealed)
and forgive us our trespasses (faithless fears)
as we forgive (and learn to heal)

those who trespass (the uninvited)
against us (us and them the same).
Lead us (let us ever follow
on thy path and in thy name)

not into temptation (our otherwise
of empty prayers and private hells),
but deliver us (when we do not follow)
from evil (save us from ourselves).

For thine is the kingdom (heaven and earth)
and the power (every strength we know)
and the glory (Jesus lives!), forever
and ever. Amen (let it be so).

Tuesday, March 22

We Need To Pray

It is a time of mixed emotions at 520 Stewart Ave. We are suddenly shaken with unfamiliar feelings of anxieties and perplexity, stunned by the news that brother Josh has a tumor in his head, and yet we are brought closer together by this. We are sharing our feelings and holding each other up and learning how to pray.

“The family that prays together stays together,” my girlfriend noted a few days ago, and it is true. We need the familiar so very much these days; we need to lean on and to be leaned upon; and when our mixed emotions threaten to weaken us and tear us apart, we need to pray.

We pray as Jesus taught us.

It is not our instinctive nature to know how to pray or what to say, but Jesus has made it easy, giving us words that say it all, every word with a power that we cannot find on our own. We pray, right from the start, to one who has been personally introduced to us not only as the Lord’s father but as Our Father, in the spirit of togetherness and family. God is our father and this is our prayer.

We pray with a sense of our place.

And we praise God, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name! But we also pray with the encouragement to turn boldly to Our Father with our every need. Jesus taught us to pray upward, without reserve and for everything at once: for strength and healing, providence and peace, hope and joy and humility. Yes, we talk of bread and leading and deliverance, but there is so much more than these words in the prayer we are taught.

We pray for strength.

We ask for the strength to merely stand sometimes, and once we are strong we pray for the strength to support others. And all along, weak or strong, we pray for the individual strengths of those around us. I am right now praying for Annie, our youngest sibling, who, being only twelve, has been hit especially hard this week. I am also praying for Mom and Don, who, being our parents, seem to be going through a period of rational denial —but who am I to say? I can only pray. And of course we all pray, every day, for Josh, who has the biggest battle to fight, and yet he seems so strong already, stronger than any one of us; often more fortified than all of us collectively. Still, we pray for his continued strength against all weakness, and we pray knowing that it is by the grace of God that Joshua is strong at all. All strength comes from God. Thine is the power.

We pray for healing.

“Deliver us from evil.” There are people in our church family who have started praying fervently for Joshua’s physical healing. Maybe he will be healed by these petitions. For the sake of Joshua and all of us, I hope that this will be true. We love Josh, we don’t want to lose him, but we sometimes fear the worst —Joshua dying, leaving us — and so we pray desperately for God to take away the cause of this fear. Some people even say that it is Satan inside of Joshua’s head, and these people pray quite intensely to exorcize. But I must tell you, I haven’t prayed this prayer very often. I don’t know why God put a tumor in Josh’s brain or why there is fear inside of my own head, but I don’t want to think about Satan. Nonetheless, or maybe consequently, I pray: Deliver us from fear and deliver Joshua from every malignancy. Deliver us from doubt and every shade of the devils within us. Deliver us from evil.

We pray for providence.

This is the healing prayer that I am more inclined to pray. I pray for the doctors. I pray for a reduction of any pain Joshua may have. I pray that he will be able to appreciate God’s gift of life to the fullest and I pray that it might be God’s will to let Joshua live rich and long. But I pray, perhaps more fervently again, for the strength of one step at a time, for Joshua and for all of us. I pray for a simple Providence, that God might simply provide us with what we need from day to day. Give us this day our daily bread.

We pray for peace.

We try to believe, somehow, that everything is according to God’s plan, that God is just and merciful, that whatever the cause of Joshua’s suffering, God will restore him and reward him in the end. The very last of us, the least comforted, will be the first: God has promised this. I don’t know how to rest in this promise, but I am praying all the same for the truth of it, that Thy will be done and that I will be able to accept the pace of it even before I know the peace of it. We don’t pray to understand. We pray instead for God’s strengthening through the trials and for God’s encouragement by his presence and loudest of all for what we don’t have: that specific peace, the peace that passes all understanding: peace for Joshua, peace for each one of us brought together in prayer, peace on earth as it is in heaven.

We pray for hope.

We pray to believe that some day, if we all keep praying, we will reach the place where there are no weaknesses or fears or pain or confusion, where there is only the certainty that God’s will is to take care of us —forever and ever. “The kingdom of God is very near,” always, and so it is: Thine is the kingdom, and so we pray, Thy kingdom come!

We pray for joy.

And that we will one day be able to look back and see all that God has given us —even a brain tumor, even if it is a cancerous one —as a blessing. “Blessed be the name of Yahweh!” cried Job in a windstorm. Hallowed be thy name, he cried. And I pray to have that same perception, that beautiful attitude, well before the final day, even as God’s will is done here on earth, as it will be done in heaven. “Blessed be the name of Yahweh!” I want to say, even in the midst of this misfortune, blessed be God for all things! Thine is the glory.

That is how I would pray all the time. But I admit, I cry more often out of fear and uncertainty and anxiety, and so there is one more thing I am learning to pray these days. I pray for forgiveness. I pray to be forgiven for my lack of joy and my weakening faith, even as I learn to forgive others for their own lacking —the deniers, the perplexed ones, the people who refuse to see Satan and the  people who see more of Satan and less of God. I pray to remember that underneath our mixed emotions and amidst the storms around us we are all the same; lead us not into the temptation of thinking otherwise.

Forgive us all, Father, and help us to have faith the size of a mustard seed to move each mountain before us. Or if it is thy will, Father in heaven, give us the strength to climb the mountain and to get to the other side.

At 520 Stewart we have prayed many prayers in the last several days, but each of our prayers are in the nature of the singular prayer that Jesus taught us to pray, the Lord’s prayer that is our prayer. In Jesus’s name we pray.

Thank you God for teaching us to pray and for hearing our prayers, for giving us your strength, your healing, your providence, your peace, your hope, your joy, and for giving us forgiveness and a place for us beyond our mixed emotions.

Forever and ever, Amen.  Let it be so.

Monday, March 21

A Perpetual Place

There is a place along Algonquin Road
that I pass by, when I am on the way
from here to there, whenever fates allow
my passage and the meeting points align,
a place in time that stirs me every now,
between point east, a chapter of my youth,
and then, post-scripted, education’s berth,
while to the west, the middle marriage days
when we would send our toddlers off to school
and lose ourselves and move ourselves away.
We ended twenty miles to the north,
but still I pass this wooded place, preserved
along the Des Plaines River corridor,
both nestled in the shadow of O’Hare
and paralleled by I-294,
this quiet place, in spite of everything,
a respite from the traffic’s constant noise,
a solace more important than it seems,
a piece of peace exceeding understanding
and this, the place I stopped one day to scream.

O Holy Week, your passions never fail
to move me, if not too far from the pews,
and Spring, each passing year you manage to
renew my spirit with your April rain,
and even now I want to cling to you,
but I have always had my destinies
to pull me through and keep me on the road,
and though I know this place will never be
the only place I’ve found myself compelled
to stop along the way, to feel free
to park the car, to leave the beaten path
and walk into the muffle of the woods,
to sit a while upon a fallen tree
and ponder where I’ve turned and what I’ve seen
and think about the sounds surrounding me,
there’s never been another place or time
where in my desperation it would feel
or when from daily driving it would seem
so necessary to set everything
aside, to face the forestry, to scream.

And still that April echoes in my soul.
When you have lived for twenty seven years
and you would live for fifty seven more,
when you’re not certain what may lie ahead
and you don’t have the world you had before,
when this big city closes in on you
and overwhelms you as you make your way
from here to there, when you can’t take the sounds
of now and then, and when you cannot find
a place along the way to turn around,
allow yourself, at least once in your life,
to claim that place, your own Algonquin Road,
and pick someplace that’s not so far away
or out of reach that it might be forgotten
or lost to random paths of yesterday,
and even if you never stop again,
pass by your April every now and then,
and if some day you move your stuff upstream,
you’ll keep this place and time forever, where
you walked into the woods one day to scream.

Sunday, March 20

Palm Sunday, 2009

This will be the twentieth Palm Sunday after my father died (All the importance we put in a day). “Sunday’s coming,” he used to say In the evenings, preparing to preach. He was fifty one; another month He would have been fifty two. We plodded through that Holy Week; By Maundy Thursday we were driving home; Good Friday, watched them veil the cross; And Saturday, turned the television on To see March Madness with brother Josh Blowing a horn with the Illini band. “Sunday’s coming,” Dad used to say, As if every day were Saturday. Another two months and brother Dan Would graduate from college, Dad’s college, his old alma mater From thirty years before. It felt to us Like Dad was there all over again. And suddenly it’s twenty years ago, Twenty years of Sundays coming. As Dad would say, I’m doing okay. But it will be harder at number twenty five When I will be fifty one.

Saturday, March 19

Twenty Fifth Anniversary, 2014

March 19.  I did not choose this date,
but today has some significance to me,
because it was 25 year ago today

that my father died.  And maybe
I shouldn’t dwell on this, but
He was 51, the same age I am today.

And he died of a heart attack, which
apparently runs in the family:
all six of my dad’s brothers and sisters

have had heart conditions since then,
So here I am in the middle of Lent,
focusing on my mortality.

As we are supposed to do, I guess,
but what I really want to talk about
is the rest of the story.

March 19, 1989 was Palm Sunday. Lent
came early that year, and it was (imagine!)
a beautiful beginning-of-spring day.

The grass was turning green.  The sky was blue.
And I was going to get out and enjoy the day.
But then the phone rang, and it changed everything.

My thoughts ran all over the place: Immediately,
I missed my dad.  But then I remembered
that I hadn’t talked to him in over a month.

I thought about how 26 was way too young
to be making funeral arrangements.  And I thought
about the 600 mile drive I had in front of me.

But that call had come just as I was about to go
to church that morning, and something compelled me
to keep on going.  And it was a good thing.

Because for all of my scattered thoughts, I needed
to hear and sing those processional hymns,
and even though there were tears in my eyes,

it was good to be part of a crowd raising their
palm fronds and turning their eyes to Jesus
and maybe it was going to be a tough week ahead,

but it was nice to be reminded that Easter was coming.
And the reminders kept coming, all week long.
Everyone was so warm and close that week,

friends, family but also members of my dad’s church,
people I didn’t even know, and they were smiling,
even laughing, as they took time to remember Joe Vold,

and when we got to the funeral, there was even
a sense of celebration, because my dad knew
where he was going, and he wanted us to know it, too.

By Friday, I was back home in Chicago,
and Friday night I found myself back in church.
This time it was the Good Friday service:

the Tennebrae service, where they shroud the cross
and dim the lights and everyone slowly filters
out of the church, quietly, somberly,

and where the name of the day practically begs
the question: what’s so good about it?
But we all know the answer, don’t we?

And that’s the rest of the story.
You know, I might just live another 51 years,
and I have some encouragement in that:

of my dad’s six brothers and sisters,
five of them are still going strong,
and they’re all getting well into their eighties now.

But more importantly, I’m encouraged by
the daily reminders all around me,
encouragements from my aunts and uncles

and many of you, too, reminding me daily
that regardless of where we are in life
or how tough our Lenten journey may seem

it is good to know where we are going.

Friday, March 18

TWL, Dedication: Opening Allusions

0.4 For Ezra Pound
il miglior fabbro.

0.4. DEDICATION: See Longfellow’s translation of Dante, Purgatorio 26:115, 117, interpreting “il miglior fabbra” as “a better smith.”:

“‘O brother,’ said he, ‘he whom I point out,..
...Was of the mother tongue a better smith.’”

This is Dante’s tribute to 12th century Provencal poet Arnaut Daniel, also described by Petrarch as a “grand master of love” (see Petrarch, Triumphus Cupidinis, ca. 1350).  For Eliot’s further tribute to Daniel, see line 428.

See also Ezra Pound’s first book on literary criticism, The Spirit of Romance (1910), in which he translated Dante’s phrase for Daniel as “the better craftsman” and commended Daniel for his “refusal to use the ‘journalese’ of his day.”

EZRA POUND was a strong influence on Eliot, who added this dedication to him in 1925, in Poems, 1909-1925 (Faber); this was also the first edition in which Eliot included his explanatory endnotes. After they met in 1914, Pound was influential in getting Eliot’s The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock published in Poetry Magazine in 1915. See Eliot, Letters.

See notes 141, 198 and 219 for other Prufrock references.

Pound was even more actively involved as a reader and editor for The Waste Land.  See note 69, and for a sample of Pound’s editing see notes 167, 212, 219 and 293; for a fuller effect, see F&T.

See also Pound’s 1921 letter to Eliot just before The Waste Land was published (also in Eliot, Letters). In a 48 line poem he called “Sage Homme,” Pound congratulated his friend for creating the poem but took his due credit for helping with the delivery. Pound’s poem begins:

“These are the poems of Eliot
By the Uranian Muse begot;
A Man their Mother was,
A Muse their Sire.
How did the printed Infancies result
From Nuptials thus doubly difficult?
If you must needs enquire
Know diligent Reader
That on each Occasion
Ezra performed the Caesarean Operation.”

For a delayed response, see Eliot, Ezra Pound (Poetry, Sept. 1946):

“I have sometimes tried to perform the same sort of maieutic task; and I know that one of the temptations against which I have to be on guard, is trying to rewrite somebody's poem in the way I should have written it myself if I had wanted to write that poem. Pound never did that: he tried first to understand what one was attempting to do, and then tried to help one do it in one's own way.”

Thursday, March 17

Moleskin 2.3: Placement

There are different prototypical personalities a child can take on, depending on his or her placement in the household, and my brothers and later my sister would demonstrate this to me, as I would to them. They can tell their own tales of being middle children and babies of the family, and they each, in turn, were the baby, getting primary attentions and given increments of freedom. But I was the oldest, and for four years the only, which means my own attentions and freedoms were, at first, exclusive. I do not remember the transition; or maybe I willfully denied it and, surely, continue to do so. I did not, and do not deny, my siblings’ rightful attentions and defining freedoms, but a part of me believes, perhaps irrationally, selfishly, but, yes, willfully, that my placement has never diminished.

Wednesday, March 16

Journal, 1990, Continued

March 16

Josh must pee in a cup and stay in bed, and he doesn’t have much of an appetite. He will have to sleep at a forty five degree angle. But his spirits, despite the inconvenience, are high. I finally reach Aunt Grace and Uncle Willard and tell them the news.  I call Josh at the hospital to inform him of this. It is 8:15 pm, and he sounds very groggy. That's natural — but it disturbs me.

March 17

Saturday. I am at the hospital from 11:00 to 6:30. There are lots of visitors. Josh insists he is not overwhelmed. I am. I am testy, with Parul especially. But later, at home, on the phone, I tell her that I need her. I have called her after a wrenching cry. “Josh is going to be okay, one way or another,” I keep saying —but what about me? Parul helps me, reassures me. Later, I’m saying it again: “Josh is going to be okay, one way or another,” and I say this to Anneliese. And she cries. The hairy brother said,

“They’re gonna shave my head
and have a look inside.”
His little sister cried:
“But you’re not gonna die,
are you?” Her giant tears
fell full of lonely fears.
“No, I’m not gonna die,”
big brother smiled. “Hey,
what’s with you anyway?
It’s just brain surgery!
—So don’t give up on me.”
“You’re gonna be okay?”
she asked, with one more tear.
And brother said, “Come here,
I’m gonna be fine.”

March 18

Sunday. Parul and I visit Josh after church, at 10:30. I promise to pace myself so that I won’t be overwhelmed. But I want to be with Josh, because he’s said he doesn’t want to be alone. Ha! There was never less than three people in the room all day, and often more than five. Good! Good for Josh, and for his spirits. And they are rubbing off on all of us. He is able to walk around now, and the IV is no longer needed.

March 19

We still don’t know what is in Josh’s head. There is a spot, 1.69 centimeters in diameter, on the CAT-scan, but it could still be a blood clot or an aneurism (are they the same thing?). We will know more this afternoon. First, Josh is put through one more test: a cerebral angiogram, in which a catheter is inserted into an artery at his groin and pushed up to his neck, where it releases a dye into his head. Josh will have to keep flat again for eight more hours, from 10:00 am when the test was administered.

At 3:30, Dr. Raj comes in with his reports. It is a tumor, at the stem of Josh’s brain, a position more commonly seen in younger children. Dr. Raj describes a biopsy procedure, but says the risk —of brain damage, primarily —outweighs the advantage of knowing malignancy or benignity. Instead we can find out what we are dealing with —there are four kinds of tumors, or “nomas” —by how easily it is removed. There is radiation, with 3,000 rads, which can wipe out the simplest benign tumor. A higher dosage will eradicate a more complex tumor. Surgery is possible, but this presents the most risk. And finally there is a new procedure, only done in three facilities nationwide, called a “gamma knife.”

We will learn more in the days and consultations to follow. ....It was scary hearing all this, and especially hearing no certain solution nor even a specific problem. And everyone seems to have heard different things. Most optimistically, Don concludes that the tumor is simply not malignant. Perhaps I am the most pessimistic, although I believe I am being objective. At any rate, we must all continue to pray. And we will watch to see whether Josh’s spirits need our help for a change.

Tuesday, March 15


Squirrels chewed a hole in the wall of my brother’s room: the east wall, right next to the bed. After years of hearing them scurrying around in the attic, and of thinking their actions harmless, these cousins of rats found a way into the wall, and shortly thereafter, a way out. My father put poison by the hole, and in a few days the box was empty and the squirrels —we hoped —had disappeared back into the wall, back up to the attic and maybe even out of the house where they could die without raising too much of a stink.

Josh, my brother, was not home for this. If he had been, it wouldn’t have bothered him, he says. He would have slept next to the hole, as if to prove something. As it was, he was the one to point out that no one had actually seen any squirrels in the house. “I bet you you’ve been fooled all along,” he said. “I bet you they were rats.” Josh was in school, several miles away.

But the squirrels, or whatever they were, finally busted in. Just a crack was all they needed to get started, and in no time —one, two days —they had a hole big enough to caravan a whole family through. We had heard them scuttling behind the plaster for at least as long as we’ve owned this house —fourteen years that would be, which in squirrel generations is practically forever. Then, suddenly, they were in and out of the room. Dad put some D-Con by their new doorway, and they ate that up and started chewing on the cardboard box. And the hole in the wall got bigger. “ButD-Con,” explained Dad, “will eventually make them go off and die somewhere. “Won’t they start smelling?” I asked. “No,” said Dad. “They just go off somewhere.”

Next the birds found their way in. They must have had to go through the squirrel tunnel to get to the hole, which doesn’t seem like a birdlike thing to do, but anyway they did it. Mom opened up the door one day and literally scared the shit out of them, two big crows. She was pretty scared too, but the birds were going nuts, banging themselves against the windows and flying all around the room like the floor was on fire. Mom tried to gather up courage to walk across the room to open the window, but the birds didn’t want to allow her; apparently changing their birdish minds, they started getting defensive about their new home. So Mom closed the door and hoped that maybe the dummies would somehow rediscover that gaping squirrel portal and go back the way they came in.

The doctor, meanwhile, said that you now had a hole in your head, but that you’d be fine. But he apparently decided not to tell you that they’d have to keep waking you up every hour, all night long, to test your neurological functions. Maybe that’s why they didn’t mind opening your door for me at 11:30 in the evening. “This is against hospital rules, you know,” they said to me, but they didn’t seem to be listening to themselves.

Mom told me about the crows, so I went upstairs and opened the door to your room. Nothing was happening —one bird was awake but had retreated, apparently worn out, to a corner. I opened a window and it took about a second to shoo that bird out. The other bird —“I think it was a baby,” Mom said —was nowhere to be found. I suppose we’ll run across it someday, dead in some cranny and rotting away. Or maybe it found its way back out through the hole.

And look at you, brother, lying there like nothing happened. No, you’re tickled over the whole experience. “I just had brain surgery,” you brag with a dull smile.

You had promised, before you went in, that you would wake up five hours after surgery, in order to not miss any of your college’s televised football game, and now here you are. “How are you feeling?” I ask. “The pain’s bearable,” you say. “Aw, look, they’re three points behind. If I’d only have been there, cheering the defense just a little louder!”

Monday, March 14

Journal, Middle Of March, 1990

you shall above all things be glad and young
       — e. e. cummings

March 2:  Josh up from Champaign for eye exam. Says vision is jumpy. I suggest he get glasses that jump in reverse.  Considering his earlier concern about dehydration, I write this symptom off as psychosomatic. The doctor, as if to concur, rates his vision as 20-20.

March 14:  Josh is back up. Says he has had a CAT-scan in the morning after more symptoms of double vision, and has come to Chicago at the urging of the doctors in Champaign. He looks very glary-eyed. We bring him to the hospital at 9:00 pm. After about an hour in the emergency room —relatively un-tense! —we meet Dr. Raj, who suggests (strongly) that Josh be checked in that evening. He is left there in the emergency room, and we all go home. (“We” being Mom, Parul, Josh’s friends John Valusas, Dave ____ and Keith ____, and me, with a visit from Pastor Gimmi; Don is home with Annie).

March 15:  Josh has an MRI exam in the morning, and Dr. Raj proceeds in the evening with a neural operation, placing a permanent shunt from Josh’s brain to his abdominal area. He has one fourth of his head shaved and he has holes in his head and in his abdomen. The operation is done in an hour and a quarter, and Josh wakes up in intensive care with an IV in his arm —standard fare for brain surgery; this one went very smoothly. I am at work during the operation, but I somehow manage to get in to see him at 10:30 pm —only three hours afterwards. Josh is awake, watching a basketball game.

Sunday, March 13

A Call To Cheer

I'd rather learn from 
   one bird how to sing
than teach ten thousand 
   stars how not to dance.
       — e. e. cummings

Dad was a Card fan raised by radio:
No matter who was playing he wore red
And fondly reminisced of Stan the Man,
Jack Buck and Harry Caray on the air,

The classic steal of Brock for Broglio—
As home teams changed still Dad was born and bred
To tune each game in from a distant stand
And cheer the Redbirds on, no matter where.

I’ve been a Cub fan all my life, by Joe,
Been cut so many times and always bled
A shade of blue that’s hard to understand
Unless you’ve lived and breathed the Wrigley air

Where “Let’s play two” means never let it go
And keep on root, root, rooting them ahead
Until they win the big one.  That’s the plan,
No matter when it happens.  I’ll be there.

Mid-March is when I miss him most, you know:
As winter melts away, thoughts fill my head
Of spring and what it means to be a fan
With songs of resurrection everywhere.

Young cubs shake off their sleep and start to play,
Seeing the fields turn greener every day
And hearing the cardinals’ call to cheer, cheer, cheer;
And from a distant stand, my dad is here.

Saturday, March 12


Sometimes, we tell our stories backwards:
The burial precedes the funeral, and
mourning anticipates departure.

Semitemos, the plot stands still
while we move on to the denouement:
It will not until Friday be that I begin to wonder
when might have happened on Whatsday.
Lifetimes some is just a foreword

and I want to skip to the afterlife,
but suchtimes the book will make no sense
without the author’s explanation.

  So here we are, dear, you not saying a word
and I just filling in the blanks,
but we’re both telling the story as it occurs.

Friday, March 11

TWL, Epigraph: To Be Or Not To Be

0.1 The Waste Land
0.2 by T. S. Eliot (1922)

0.3 "Nam Sibyllam quidem Cumis ego ipse oculis meis vidi in
ampulla pendere, et cum illi pueri dicerent: Σἰβυλλα τἱ
θἐλεις ; respondebat illa: ἀποθανεἰν θἑλω.”

0.1. TITLE: Eliot, in the first of his own endnotes, directly acknowledged what inspired the name of this poem (see note 0.2), but see also notes 42, 145 and 385 for other influences, and see note 111 for an inspiration to the poem’s earlier working title, “He Do The Police In Different Voices.”  Those many voices will become apparent throughout these annotations.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS: The Waste Land by T. S. Eliot, initially presented in 1922, is offered here in the form of its publication in Poems, 1909-1925 (Faber), the first edition in which Eliot included explanatory endnotes.  His notes and these expanded annotations  serve primarily to acknowledge the sources of the voices.  These sources are given full citations at their primary reference points.  All of the pre-poem sources  are now public domain works, and many are widely available online.  Most of the translations turned to here are also from publicly held works that would have been known in 1922. The most frequent sources for Eliot’s “voices” are:

SHAKESPEARE, surpassing Dante and the Bible (see note 130); specifically, William Shakespeare, Hamlet (1605) (notes 0.2, 4, 8, 42, 74, 76.5, 92, 112, 123, 128, 130, 131, 172, 172.5, 214, 231, 380, 393, 417, 432, 433); The Tempest (1611) (7, 12, 15, 26, 48, 76.5, 111, 125, 138, 167, 172.5, 182, 186, 191, 257, 266, 276, 291, 321.5, 393); Anthony & Cleopatra (1623) (8, 34, 42, 77, 80, 111, 172, 227, 293, 420); Cymbeline (1623) (8, 77, 80, 197); MacBeth (1623) (141, 308, 318, 321.5); and Coriolanus (1608) (417).

THE BIBLE, cited  here and throughout these notes, with rarest exception, from the King James Version (1611), with references to Genesis (note 374), Job (22, 321.5), Psalms (184, 311), Ecclesiastes (13,23, 141), Isaiah (25, 145 (Darby Translation), 184, 426), Jeremiah (27, 385), Ezekiel (20, 22, 116, 186), Daniel (361), Matthew (184, 311, 311.5, 322, 324, 393), Luke (322, 366), John (0.5, 184, 201, 219, 298, 321.5, 322), Romans (307, 319), 1 Corinthians (71), Philippians (434) and Revelation (209, 248, 250, 321.5).

DANTE Alighieri, The Divine Comedy (ca. 1321; tr. Henry Wordsworth Longfellow, 1867), including Inferno (notes 12, 34, 40, 61, 63, 64, 68, 76.5, 126, 131, 246, 321.5, 343, 412 and 430); Purgatorio (0.4, 41, 182, 221, 293 and 428); and Paradiso (41).

VIRGIL, Aeneid (19 BCE, tr. John Dryden 1697): see notes 0.1, 0.2, 0.3, 12, 26, 34, 70, 80, 92, 231, 276, 293, 307 and 388.

OVID, Metamorphoses (AD 8; tr. John Dryden, Samuel Garth, Alexander Pope et al, 1717), with stories of the Sybil (notes 0.3, 55, 63, 76.5, 111, 253) the Lethe River (4, 214, 266), the rape of Philomela (8, 99, 198, 202, 209, 242, 253, 280, 429), the Hyacinth prince (36, 39, 42, 71, 74, 76.5, 111, 125, 138, 176, 209, 214, 227, 311.5, 312, 323, 378, 429 ), Actaeon and Diana (77, 197, 198, 248, 276) and Tiresias (54, 208, 218, 219, 243, 248). See also Ovid’s Tristia at note 276.

ELIOT’S OWN VOICE, and the voices of those immediately around him, are also heard through several key resources:

“Eliot”: Eliot’s 1925 endnotes, from Poems, 1909-1925 (Faber).
“F&T”: T. S. Eliot: The Waste Land, a Facsimile & Transcript of the Original Drafts Including the Annotations of Ezra Pound, edited and with an Introduction by Valerie Eliot (1971).
“Letters”: Valerie Eliot, The Letters of T.S. Eliot: 1898-1922 (1988).
“Letters II”: Valerie Eliot, The Letters of T.S. Eliot, Vol. 2: 1923-1925 (2011).

PRESENTATION: Preceding these annotations, the poem is offered to the reader as Eliot first intended, without interruption and with the line spacing intact, but with several typographical fixes to the 1925 edition, two of which Eliot would later endorse, at lines 42 (changing Od’ to Oed’) and 131 (deleting an extra quotation mark). Line numbers are also adjusted, without the poet’s endorsement, to fix an earlier miscount at line 347.  Following Eliot’s lead, the poem is then offered to the student, with the endnotes interspersed and the line numbering increased for easier cross-referencing.  Thus, the reader is encouraged to study and the student is encouraged to read.  And so we begin...

0.2. WESTON AND FRAZER:  Eliot: “Not only the title, but the plan and a good deal of the incidental symbolism of the poem were suggested by Miss Jessie L. Weston’s book on the Grail legend: From Ritual to Romance (Cambridge).  Indeed, so deeply am I indebted, Miss Weston’s book will elucidate the difficulties of the poem much better than my notes can do; and I recommendit (apart from the great interest of the book itself) to any who think such elucidation of the poem worth the trouble. To another work of anthropology I am indebted in general, one which has influenced our generation profoundly; I mean The Golden Bough; I have used especially the two volumes Adonis, Attis, Osiris. Anyone who is acquainted with these works will immediately recognize in the poem certain references to vegetation ceremonies.”

Thomas Stearns Eliot gets top billing for The Waste Land, but the first of his endnotes spotlights the work of two anthropologists, Jessie L. Weston, From Ritual to Romance (1920) and James G. Frazer, The Golden Bough, A Study in Magic & Religion, 3d Ed (1914).  Anthropology (see also note 218), the study of humanity across cultures and time and discipline, was reaching a new level of popular appeal in the early 1920s, thanks in part to the works of Weston and Frazer.

THE GRAIL LEGEND, Weston’s key focus, is alluded to at lines 31-35, 201, 266-306, 386-390 and 424-426, and discussed at notes 8, 31, 46, 201, 209, 266, 388 and 425.  See also Weston, The Quest of the Holy Grail (1913): “In Arthurian legend, a Fisher King (the fish being an ancient symbol of life) has been maimed or killed, and his country has therefore become a dry Waste Land; he can only be regenerated and his land restored to fertility by a knight (Parsifal) who perseveres through various ordeals to the Perilous Chapel and learns the answers to certain ritual questions about the Grail.” And from Ritual to Romance 2: “...the story postulates a close connection between the vitality of a certain King, and the prosperity of his kingdom; the forces of the ruler being weakened or destroyed, by wound, sickness, old age, or death, the land becomes Waste, and the task of the hero is that of restoration.”

RENEWAL, shown through revegetation and the effects of spring, is also the theme of Frazer’s The Golden Bough, which considered the traditions of ancient fertility cults and ritual sacrifice that have influenced our modern culture.  Volumes V & VI of this work, also credited in Weston’s Ritual to Romance,offered a two part study of Adonis, Attis and Osiris, respectively Greek, Phrygian and Egyptian gods of vegetation who were said to live and die annually.

THE ESCORT CYCLE of Aeneas’s Sybil, Virgil’s Aeneas and Dante’s Virgil (and in turn, Eliot’s Dante and our Eliot) is also introduced by Frazer’s book, which opens with the “sylvan landscape” (see line 98) of J. M. W. Turner, The Golden Bough (1834), also featured in the 1856 H. Graves & Co. edition of Virgil, Aeneid.  For the painting’s story, see Virgil, Aeneid 6.  Aeneas, in search of a new home after leaving his destroyed city of Troy, encounters the Sybil at Cumae. The Sybil agrees to act as his escort into hell, where Aeneas hopes to find the ghost of his father, but to enter he first must give Proserpina, Queen of the Underworld, the bough of a golden tree that replenishes itself as branches are taken from it.  Compare Virgil escorting the poet through the circles of hell in Dante, Inferno 1.130-135.  See also Shakespeare, Hamlet 1.1.127-138, for another father and child ghost scene.  But first, before the guidance of Shakespeare and Dante and Virgil, it was the Sybil who escorted Aeneas, leading him not just to write but to relate.  See Aeneid 6.116-119:

“...Commit not thy prophetic mind
To flitting leaves, the sport of ev'ry wind,
Lest they disperse in air our empty fate;
Write not, but, what the pow'rs ordain, relate."

J. M. W. Turner, The Golden Bough (1834)

0.3. THE SYBIL: We have met “Syballum,” the Sybil, as an escort to Aeneas, but it is the Sybil’s untranslated words from another setting that give this poem its opening epigraph.  For a translation, see Trimalchio, in Petronius Arbiter, Satyricon, 48 (ca. AD 50, tr. Michael Heseltine 1913):

“Yes, and I myself with my own eyes saw the Sibyl hanging in a cage; and when the boys cried at her: ‘Sibyl, Sibyl, what do you want?’ ‘I would that I were dead,’ she used to answer.’”

Apollo had granted the Sibyl a wish in exchange for her virginity; she asked for eternal life but in time she shriveled up, having forgotten to ask for eternal youth. See also Ovid, Metamorphoses 14:122-133 (AD 8; tr. John Dryden, Samuel Garth, Alexander Pope et al, 1717):

“I am no deity, reply'd the dame,
But mortal, and religious rites disclaim.
Yet had avoided death's tyrannick sway,
Had I consented to the God of day.
With promises he sought my love, and said,
Have all you wish, my fair Cumaean maid.
I paus'd; then pointing to a heap of sand,
For ev'ry grain, to live a year, demand.
But ah! unmindful of th' effect of time,
Forgot to covenant for youth, and prime.
The smiling bloom, I boasted once, is gone,
And feeble age with lagging limbs creeps on.”

ETERNITY, or the thought of never dying, is abhorrent to the Sybil, and her sentiment of a living hell also resonates in an alternative epigraph Eliot had once considered from Kurtz’s dying words in Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness (1902):

“The horror! The horror!”

See F&T, and note 298. But just as Marlow would call Kurtz’s cry a moral victory, Eliot, even as he relates the Sybil’s wish to be dead, appears to be actively yearning for something beyond the metaphorical grave. See note 298 for the poet’s eventual appreciation of a “new start.” More immediately, see note 0.5 for the first of several allusions to the story of Lazarus being raised from the dead and given a more positive promise of eternal life.

CONRAD: Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness is alluded to several times in this poem; see notes 0.3, 41, 76.5, 123, 266, 272 and 298.  See also an allusion to Conrad, An Outcast of the Islands at note 395.

EPHEMERALITY: Counterposed to eternity, and rejecting the Sybil’s predicament, is the thought that nothing lasts forever.  This too is reflected throughout The Waste Land, most notably in its sensitivity to the season cycle (see note 141) and its observation of the rise and fall of cities and civilizations (see note 376), but also within the poem’s many substories, built on memories and relationships.

Thursday, March 10

Moleskin 2.2: I Am Named

From day one, perhaps in the first moments after birth, I was given a name that I was regularly, determinedly called: Jonathan Andrew Vold.  The family name, from my father’s side, was taken from Lake Lisavold southwest of Trondheim, Norway, assumed by my grandfather John O. Vold. He decided propitiously, coming here alone at a relatively young age, that he would leave his family name, Slupphaug, behind. The middle name, from my mother’s side, was the common name of my mother’s maternal grandfather Andrias Loftness, the youngest of my great great grandfather Gregorius’s twelve children and the only one born in America. The first name, Jonathan, means gift from God, probably preconceived but fitting to how the doctor was able to unwrap the umbilical cord from around my neck in those first seconds of life. Or so I am told.

Wednesday, March 9

Mimus Polyglotus

For I, that was a child, 
my tongue’s use sleeping, 
now I have heard you, 
Now in a moment 
I know what I am for, 
   I awake

             — Walt Whitman


A man before a million souls to me
Suggested through his sorrow he could smile
Because the one he lost had taught him well
Of celebrating death.  How can that be?
But how he didn’t say, nor did I see
Immediately that within his smile
He had a million tales of life to tell
As one who lived to tell and told to me.
A single face within a passing crowd
Who sings of moonlight on a distant shore
Can echo joy and pain, and in each word
Can radiate a purpose and a creed.
Here, then, the mourning soul with smiles to bear
And hear one who recalls a mockingbird.


My father’s pastor in another time
Spoke to his congregation: “Celebrate
The life well lived that walks through heaven’s gate
And leaves a lasting trail of footprints.”  I’m
Still resonating to the funeral chimes
And eulogies and yet I hesitate
To smile at death; I stand before a gate
That begs a deeper reason for the rhyme.
Prosaically: It’s hard to celebrate
The end of things, and one that is no more
Is nothing but a fading memory;
But even here the moon and waters meet
And waves give testimony to the shore,
And the mockingbird begins to sing to me...


A poet in the evening of his youth
Found revelations in a song he heard
Along Manhattan’s autumn shores: a bird
Delivering translations of the truth,
Repeating what the waves had left him with
Forever, what the boy had always heard
But never understood, a single word
Unveiled within a moonlit whisper: Death.
He called it strong, delicious, steady, sweet,
Superior and final, then he swore
To conquer it and begged for more of it,
And in its wake he knew what he was for
And in its power he pledged to celebrate,
To sing eternally and evermore.